Monday, May 31, 2010

How I cast cattle/loading docks from concrete

Given that my railway is inspired by the Welshpool and Llanfair and similarly based in a rural location (in the heart of Cheshire) and, like the W&L, the line terminates beside a Smithfield Market, it's inevitable that livestock will become a mainstay of the goods traffic on the line. Having already constructed two cattle vans (based loosely on W&L prototypes - see How I constructed two cattle wagons), with more planned, I realised I would have to construct the means by which the wagons could be loaded at each station on the line. Having gained some experience of casting overbridges in situ (see How I cast two concrete overbridges), I decided to use the same approach.

Firstly, a mould was constructed out of off-cuts of timber:

Having unsuccessfully tried scribing the stonework by removing the mould when the concrete was still in its partially dried (green) state, I decided to use an approach I'd used successfully on one of the bridges - I used a hot glue gun to create mortar courses inside the mould:

A site was selected alongside a siding and some hardcore (rubble) was put into a trench beneath where the dock would sit:

The mould was then put in place and filled with a stiff mix of concrete (2 parts sand, 1 part gravel, 1 part cement) to which had been added some red dye to simulate the local red sandstone.
While the concrete was wet. I added some square posts (mahogany) to eventually support the railings to guide the livestock up the ramp:

Lolly sticks were trimmed to fit in between the posts to mask the surface when sprinkling coarse sand on the surface. 

When the concrete was nearly dry (12-24 hours), the lolly sticks were removed so the tops of the stonework could be scribed on.

When the concrete was completely dry (3 days) the mould was carefully dismantled by unscrewing the screws which hold it together.

Railings made from coffee stirrers were then glued on to the posts with exterior PVA and treated with Cuprinol.
A mix of concrete (4 parts builders' sand + 1 part cement + brown dye) was smeared on the trackwork and then stippled with an old paintbrush. As you can see, I have a bit of tidying-up to do - remodelling the corner nearest the camera and colouring the mortar-courses - but the overall effect seems OK.

Progress Report 29

A visitation from my three year old nephew plus parents encouraged me to get the layout working sufficiently well for an audience. I had thought of buying a Bachmann Thomas the Tank Engine set but the cost put me off somewhat - so a £30 Playmobil remote control railcar from eBay enabled him to control his own train.

This session enabled me to check out the clearances under the two new overbridges (see How I cast two concrete overbridges) and check that there had not been significant subsidence or encroachment of the undergrowth. So far this year I've not had sufficient time for a proper timetabled running session but at least all the stock has had an airing.

Cattle / Loading Docks
I am in the process of casting in-situ, concrete loading/cattle docks (See How I cast cattle/loading docks from concrete). These are to complement the cattle wagons (See How I made two cattle wagons) and flat wagons which will ultimately be used to transport agricultural equipment up the line.

More coaches
The rather fine Accucraft W&L Pickering coaches which I purchased a year ago (See Progress Report 20) have so far never been used because their brake gear and steps foul the platforms at Beeston Market and Bulkeley (See How I cast platforms in concrete). I did try narrowing the width of the platforms with an angle grinder but it collapsed under the strain amidst much blue smoke. Maybe the platforms were cast a little too well! So, I am considering three alternatives:
  • I will have to recast the platforms so they are lower and/or narrower, 
  • I will have to remove the brake gear and lower steps from the coaches,
  • I will have to replace the coaches with alternatives which something with better clearances
A while back I bought three coach kits from Maddison Coaches and so I am in the process of constructing these. I have completed one (minus the paint job) and it seems to pass through each of the two stations without catching on the platform and so it looks as if the third option is what I will be going for (See How I constructed three Maddison Coach kits - pending).
I am loath to butcher the Pickering Coaches and I have always been reluctant to repaint them; I'd never achieve the same quality of finish. So it looks like I will be offering them for sale on eBay

Stock boxes
All the stock boxes have now been constructed (see How I made some stock boxes) - one for each siding on the line - thirteen in total.
Ultimately, when I start operating the line as intended, with a timetable and the computer generated goods traffic (See Progress Report 16 - Freight Operation), at the end of each operating session I will be able to load the goods stock in each siding into the stock boxes, store them and then restore them in their original locations ready for the next session.

Future plans
I'm considering adding a water mill beside the stream near Peckforton Station. This will be on the opposite bank of the stream to the railway and be served by a short siding. In reality, there is a water mill at Bulkeley which I have long though could, in my imagined history, become a timber mill. The intended location would put the mill nearer to Peckforton than Bulkeley, but operationally it would still serve the same function. Just by chance, I have already made a stock box on the off-chance this comes to fruition.

Monday, May 03, 2010

How do I clean the track?

At the start of each season I have a major track cleaning session to remove the accumulated gunk from the rails. The first job is to clear the rails of overgrowth.
For this, I use a simple scraper made from an offcut of ply:

Next comes the actual scrubbing of the rail surfaces. I use the track cleaning blocks which I bought from Garden Railway Specialists (GRS).

Rather than buying the aluminium handle from GRS, I made my own by drilling a hole into the end of a broomstick, cutting a slot, inserting the knob into the hole and tightening up with a jubilee clip.

To make the abrasive blocks last longer I place a thin piece of plywood beneath them when they get worn down.

In this way I can make a pair of blocks last a whole season.

As I'm mkaing my way round the line, polishing the track, I prune the plants which are encroaching on to the railway:

I also spend a while hoiking out stones, grit and debris from each point (switch) with, variously:
  • a piece of copper wire;
  • a small electrical screwdriver;
  • a plastic plant label:
all of which I keep in my back pocket.

Finally, I go round the track with a garden vac to remove the chunks of moss, clippings and dislodged ballast.
It takes me around an hour and a half to clean the entire line in this way, but once I've done this at the start of the season the upkeep for the rest of the season is a lot less (around 20 mins before each running session).

I do have a track cleaning loco which I use from time to time during a running session, but I'm not convinced it's actually worth the £350 (now over £400) investment. Maybe if I was running trains every day it might be worth a quick whizz round at the start of each session - but with my intermittent running sessions (owing to the pressure of the day-job), I find the GRS abrasive pads to be far more cost effective in terms of time and outlay.
I have found since going over to DCC, that locos are more tolerant of tarnished or slightly mucky track, but as my locos are mostly based on short wheelbase 0-4-0 chassis they often struggle to run through pointwork without stumbling.